It is quite surprising that the big animation studios have not picked up on and adapted Australian author Aaron Blabey’s series of children’s illustrated books The Bad Guys long before now, because it centres on a gang of anthropomorphic animals known as the Bad Guys who try to do good deeds to change society’s perception of them as scary criminals that usually fail. The material is ready-made, big-screen gold – and a genius one at that.

Thanks to French animator and director Pierre Perifel we now have The Bad Guys, the movie that not only gives a faithful nod to the sketchy animated style of the books, but also as offers oodles of fun, a brilliant dynamic group of characters based on animals, reptiles and fish that we all naturally fear, plus endless points for family discussion post viewing, including the dangers and damage of societal labelling on first impressions.

The criminal gang includes Snake (voiced by Marc Maron), Shark (voiced by Craig Robinson), Tarantula (voiced by Awkwafina), Piranha (voiced by Anthony Ramos) and head of the pack, Mr. Wolf who is voiced by Sam Rockwell. They constantly evade capture and enraged Police Chief Misty Luggins (hysterically voiced by The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel‘s Alex Borstein) while accumulating a mountain of wealth. But they are still not satisfied with life or each other. The buzz of each job is shortlived.

When the Bad Guys try to pull off one last heist at an awards ceremony, they find they have bitten off more than they can chew, after crossing new city governor Diane Foxington (voiced by Zazie Beetz) who hides a dubious alter ego called The Crimson Paw. After that job goes publicly and horribly wrong, rather than bang the gang up, Foxington asks that the guys be reformed in a rehabilitation programme offered by lauded do-gooder and guinea pig Professor Marmalade (voiced by Richard Ayoade). This goes less than smoothly, but actually exposes the real ‘bad guys’ of the story, creating anti-heroes of our gang.

This band of misunderstood outcasts are first introduced to us in a frenetic car chase that the Fast and Furious franchise would be envious of. It harks back to nostalgic ’70s animation and cop chases, all accompanied by Daniel Pemberton’s funky score of the same era. It’s exhilarating and sets the snappy pace to come. However, we are far from deprived of character development. This is just as important as the action story – we need to understand exactly where each perp stands when circumstances turn and loyalties tested.

In the meantime, being in this gang’s company really is a hoot to watch. From Wolf going all ‘gooey’ when an old lady misreads his nibble thieving hands on a red carpet, to Snake’s bad-tempered and snappy nature, only thawed by a popsicle, to Shark relishing every dubious and quite hilarious disguise, each one has a personality worth getting to know, and the voice cast do not fall short of bringing them fully to life. And who knew piranhas had a big flatulence problem – a play on the carnivorous fish’s swim bladder, a gas-filledĀ organ that keeps it afloat, even if it works in the gang’s favour at times.

Ayoade’s insipid rodent character Marmalade is just as thrilling as he tries to stay calm, collected and virtuous as chaos ensues. Zazie Beetz’s Foxington continues a long line of savy feminine leads that are more than capable of running the show solo while hinting to many other sides to their personality. In fact, by the end of the film, we are no where near done finding out more about our anthropomorphic cast – just as well, as there is a major hint to a sequel, if box office takings work out.

If this first successful outing is anything to go by though, DreamWorks Animation/Universal Pictures should be making far more noise around Wolf and his gang because they really are the imperfect Good Guys trying to shake off bad behaviour and a label that sticks. We can’t help but root for them in their endeavours, while pray they keep their mischievous nature for another film escapade to come – but not running if a reformed Snake and Mr. Wolf actually entered a cafe would still be tricky.